Telephone: +254 733 93 5019


smay at post dot harvard dot edu

Mail Fowarding (US):

93 S. Jackson Street #88499

Seattle, WA 98104

Direct mail (Kenya):

P.O. Box 15276-00509

Nairobi, Kenya


As an anthropologist, I engage problems of governance, development, citizenship and community as constituted in everyday practice. My primary geographic focus has been in China, although my work has now expanded into East Africa. These broad interests have led me to work with disparate collaboraters, from film directors, musicians, and artists, to government officials, architects, corporations and non-governmental organizations, to farmers, small entrepreneurs, and parents. I share the products of my work through both publications and photography.

My most recent work has led to a specialization in the history of sustainable development, environmental planning, ecological design and in particular the social and economic factors involved in building eco-cities. I have tackled these issues both in general, and in the case of recent history in China. Given the results of my research, I am concerned with how discourses of science may be used to disenfranchise local populations for a perceived global benefit that in fact accrues to individual persons and organizations.

What I saw as a convergence of ecological and market rationalities in a project to “modernize” rural China, is now being written into a book titled Green Dreams and Schemes: Knowledge, the Market, and Development in, of, and for a Chinese Village. This work focuses on the case study of Huangbaiyu, a much lauded sustainable development “eco-city” project led by William McDonough and the China-US Center for Sustainable Development.

I remain in close contact with various actors in the Huangbaiyu case, and in particular the residents of Huangbaiyu, Lioaning. Jay Kimmelman and I continue to support these families and the dreams of their children through a secondary school scholarship fund. We are currently supporting two students to attend high school, and have committed to supporting a total of five students through achievement of their high school degrees.

Living in conditions where primary education continues to fail already impoverished families, ensuring that their children will have little opportunity to improve their own and their family’s lives was one of the most depressing aspects of living in Huangbaiyu.  After leaving the village, Jay and I began researching how children could be given the skills needed to survive, and hopefully thrive, in their worlds in a sustainable, replicable way.

After more than a year of research, together with our co-founder Phil Frei, we’ve launched Bridge International Academies. Bridge International Academies is an innovative new company launching a franchise of low-cost schools to serve impoverished families and informal settlements, beginning in Nairobi and later to expand across the continent. Through this venture we seek to provide quality primary education at prices affordable to families living in under a dollar a day poverty, while also creating small businesses whose jobs will provide new income and training to the adult population.

On January 6, 2009 we launched our first school in Mukuru kwa Njenga, Nairobi, Kenya. Hundreds more will follow.

My academic curriculum vita is available here.

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Everything is a work in progress